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Epidemiologist Fafangel Warned of the Seriousness of the Situation, but the Minister of Health Says That “There Is No Special Emphasis on COVID, We Are Not in a State of Emergency”

“This is not a state of emergency; there is no special emphasis on COVID,” the Minister of Health Danijel Bešič Loredan recently pointed out, who also said that we are not in a state of emergency and should therefore return to how things were in 2019 – before COVID hit. He and the representatives of the National Institute of Public Health presented the role of the Ministry in managing the COVID-19 epidemic in the future at a press conference. On Wednesday, they also established a new group for the coordination of COVID hospital beds. The goal of the team is to provide adequate medical care for both COVID and non-COVID patients. “Let’s not fool ourselves, politics will take care of the epidemic only up to the limit where the functioning and logistics of the healthcare system are no longer threatened,” immunologist Alojz Ihan warned in his column.

According to the Minister of Health, Danijel Bešič Loredan, the aforementioned group consists of experts who will meet weekly and give clear instructions on how to treat patients with COVID. Loredan emphasised that they have everything under control and are also prepared for the worst-case scenario. Matjaž Jereb, the head of the coordination group for COVID hospital beds, said that the structure of COVID patients has changed a lot during the epidemic, but today, hospital treatment is usually needed for those patients who are recovering from COVID-19 and have some other illnesses as well. Robert Carotta, who is responsible for hospital beds, pointed out that each hospital will have to provide a share of beds for COVID patients, and when it exceeds a certain percentage, patients will be transferred to other hospitals.

Head of the Communicable Diseases Centre at the National Institute of Public Health, Mario Fafangel, presented the current epidemiological picture on Wednesday. Due to the many sub-variants of omicron in Europe, the number of infected people is increasing rapidly, and some countries have already reached another peak, and the trend of infections is slowing down now – for example, this is happening in Austria and Germany. We confirmed 1,470 new infections in Slovenia on Tuesday, but despite the fact that the number of confirmed infections is increasing, hospitalisations are not following this trend. The group will decide on epidemic recommendations and measures based on three scenarios of the development of the epidemic and will publish its views on the website of the National Institute of Public Health. “The situation is very serious; the number of infections is increasing. The trend will continue to rise. The same is happening elsewhere in Europe and the world. But the situation is not dramatic. There is still a gap between the number of infections and the number of severe courses of the disease and deaths. We have the immunity capital that the people have acquired over the past two and a half difficult years. They acquired this through vaccination and recovery from the disease, so we have hybrid immunity,” said Fafangel at the previous press conference, who believes that we will tackle the epidemic with confidence.

According to scenario A, the existing recommendations will apply: vaccination against COVID-19, isolation, frequent ventilation of premises, work from home and the use of protective masks to protect oneself and others. This scenario will apply in the case of omicron spread, which poses a lower risk of bringing a severe course of the disease than the previous COVID variants. In the case of scenario B, the proposed measures would be somewhat stricter – as the risk of a severe course of the disease would be higher, meaning at the level of the previous variants. Scenario C would come into effect in the event of a severe worsening of the epidemic situation.

“Each new version of the omicron gets almost the entire human population at its disposal to expand. It is as if this were a completely new virus. This is a phenomenon that is epidemiologically something completely new, and at the moment, there is no epidemiologist and no infectious disease expert who would dare to claim that such a way of life with the virus is sustainable in the long term,” wrote Alojz Ihan, immunologist, in his column for the media outlet N1. He explained that the omicron subvariants leave a weak and short-lived immunity even against re-infection with the same variant. According to Ihan, humans also contributed to the great “success” of omicron when, due to its lower pathogenicity, we mostly abandoned the anti-virus protective measures used to protect us from the previous variants. There will be more versions of omicron in the future, of course, because otherwise, it cannot survive. “The omicron way of viral existence means infecting the majority of people several times a year and, therefore, this results in a huge circulation of the virus. How can we protect the immunocompromised people from it, especially since there are a lot of them in today’s society? Let’s remember that we were not able to do this even with the coronavirus variants that were much less infectious than the omicron variant. Not even in hospitals, let alone in nursing homes,” Ihan warned, adding that the elderly over the age of 65 have a hard time fighting omicron – we will have to make it clear to them that the autumn omicron will be a serious threat to their health if they do not get vaccinated in time, ideally in combination with the flu vaccine. “When it comes to the flu, they might get lucky and manage to avoid it, but with omicron, this will almost surely not happen,” he explained.  

“However, the biggest test in the future will be our attitude towards the protection of immunocompromised patients, who cannot protect themselves against the ubiquitous virus – even with vaccines. Especially in medical institutions, we should reach a level of awareness among employees and visitors that ensures they all understand that all protective measures and instructions of the institution must be strictly implemented, and that should become practically automatic to everyone. The people who decide on these hygiene measures in these institutions know exactly which corridors the big and small oncology patients use and which waiting rooms contain people who will soon receive the infusion of their regular biological therapy. It is terrifying to see a visitor in the elevator of the paediatric clinic who, after being checked by the doorkeeper, rebelliously pulls the mask under his or her mouth and looks with foolish rapture at the other parent in the elevator, whose child is, unfortunately, not only undergoing a banal appendicitis operation but is practically without an immune system due to a bone marrow transplant. In the omicron era, especially in healthcare institutions, we absolutely need a certain level of consideration for fellow human beings and consistent adherence to hygiene instructions while being aware that we do not know everything and are not the centre of the world. Because, especially in medical institutions, the omicron threatens and will continue to threaten large groups of fragile people, who will have to be systematically and consistently protected from the omicron variant if we want to be able to look each other in the eyes as a society,” the immunologist wrote.

“The number of coronavirus infections in Europe is increasing exponentially. We have the summer wave of infections. The measures, especially the wearing of masks in public places, should be mandatory. The more people are vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will end,” infectious disease expert Andrej Trampuž told the Siol media outlet, who also believes that the story of COVID is not over yet. He pointed out that, in addition, we will obviously have to take care of protection and measures by ourselves because, unlike the previous government, which was criticised for being too strict, the Golob government believes we should not “scare people” by telling them about the new wave of infections. And that is also the reason for their strategy, which is very much in the style of “if we ignore the problem, it will eventually disappear.”

Sara Bertoncelj

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